BATON ROUGE, La. — Brandon Harris entered 2016 already skating on thin ice among the LSU fanbase, and the cracks have grown deeper after the Tigers’ woeful offensive performance against Wisconsin in Week 1.
(For those LSU fans who have never seen a sheet of ice, please trust in the analogy).
But as much as fans are clamoring for immediate change, Les Miles is not in a situation where he can pull the plug on Harris after one mediocre performance against a defense that was one of the top 5 in the nation last year. Backup Danny Etling’s pedigree is shaky at best, and turning to him would reek of desperation.
Etling’s numbers in his two seasons at Purdue look a lot like Harris’ freshman and sophomore statistics.
As a freshman Etling completed 55.8 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, going 0-7 as a starter. He was the starter to open his sophomore year but was benched after going 2-3 while completing 54.9 percent of his passes for 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Granted, Etling didn’t exactly have high-caliber talent surrounding him in West Lafayette, Ind. But it’s somewhat absurd to think a quarterback not good enough to win the starting job at Purdue — the dregs of the Big Ten since Joe Tiller’s retirement in 2008 — would somehow be capable of a vast enough improvement to do the trick at LSU.
That’s not to say the change of scenery hasn’t made Etling a better player. But it is to say it would be foolish to automatically assume that to be the case.
Even with Etling’s less-than-sparkling resume, the heat is on Harris to start making things happen against Jacksonville State.
“Our quarterback can play better and will play better,” Miles said this week. “Should he not, we would look for another quarterback at some time. I don’t know when that is, and hopefully (it’s) not (necessary). But there would be that time that we would do that.”
Miles would like to get Etling on the field this week, but in a scenario where Harris’ play has given LSU a big enough lead against Jacksonville State to warrant an emptying of the bench.
“That’s speculative,” Miles said when asked how close Etling is in the competition. “I think there’s a chance that he could see time under a couple of situations.”
Harris — who completed 12 of 21 passes for 131 yards with 2 interceptions and a touchdown against Wisconsin — needs to play better, because it’s hard to see Etling being much more than a pocket-oriented version of Harris. And based on LSU’s offensive line play last week, any quarterback without wheels would be a sitting duck.
Third-string true freshman Lindsey Scott Jr. fits the description of a quarterback with wheels, but it is awfully early in a season that still holds a glimmer of hope to hand the keys to a QB who was playing in high school last fall.
Better play from the front five likely will hold the key to unlocking a better Harris, who rarely looked physically or mentally comfortable against Wisconsin. If they can figure it out, we may see the vastly improved Harris that Miles spent the offseason raving about.
If they don’t, it likely won’t make a difference who is throwing the ball for the Tigers, because he’ll often be on his back.